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Sarah Cracknell - Red Kite

  by Mary O'Meara

published: 25 / 8 / 2015

Sarah Cracknell - Red Kite
Label: Cherry Red Records
Format: CD


Dreamy soundscapes on first solo album in eighteen years from Saint Etienne front woman, Sarah Cracknell

Sarah Cracknell's first solo album in eighteen years arrives bathed in hazy sunshine and if it had a scent, for me it would be an aroma of gorgeous vanilla. When I first picked this up and played it I saw sunbeams, tricks of light dancing on urban glass, slightly dizzying cinematography. It felt completely right that the record appeared close to the summer solstice - yet, the more I listened, the more I began to trade the summer for winter and the urban for rural. It's hard to explain but somehow the music - (and the lovely packaging) have the sheen of summer but the soul of some place - not so much darker, but a little unsettled and cooler. I later read the album was actually recorded in the winter months in a neighbour's barn in the Oxfordshire countryside. Now the misty, almost frosty aura surrounding the record, punctuated with splashes of sudden sun, makes more sense. Despite the generally enduring popularity of St Etienne as a band, I still believe they are not as appreciated as they ought to be. I feel Sarah herself is criminally under-rated as a singer and lyricist/song-writer. I think the same about Debbie Harry. Too often, both of these women are dismissed as just pretty faces singing songs written by the "boys in the band" - This couldn't be further from the truth. They are both clever and intriguing lyricists and vocally stamp their mark on whatever they do. By her own admission Sarah is not a "belter" but she sure knows how to create atmosphere with her voice, which glides and glistens with those sunbeams infusing her material with a honey-like warmth. She herself describes this record as "cosy" - and I agree - but even so, there's an awareness it's cold outside. In a way, 'Red Kite' carries a sense of being wrapped up snugly but watching a melancholic film with the rain beating on the window panes. It's not an angst-filled album but it has a strange crystalline sadness running through it. Opening track 'On the Swings' has a rustic, French vibe. But is the rustic feeling an exterior or an interior? Somehow the city's heartbeat is audible through the swish of wind in the trees. This moody, cinematic quality is also evident on many of the other tracks. Sarah has a real talent for writing charming musical vignettes. These snapshots always seem very natural with the sense they took shape organically. This album reminds me a little of the last Goldfrapp album 'Tales of Us' which much as I like I prefer 'Red Kite'. I think that's because it never feels like Sarah Cracknell is trying too hard whereas I found some elements of the last Goldfrapp record somewhat contrived. There's an effortless stream of imagery that unfurls on this record (like so many St Etienne records). Maybe it isn't effortless at all but it feels effortless...it floats and dances in the mind as naturally as flickering candlelight, creating instant ambience, just as candlelight does. The album was co-written with Carwyn Ellis who is responsible for bringing some unusual instrumentation on board. There is a vibraphone and mellotron as well as a Wurlitzer electric piano featured at various points. The mellotron on 'In the Dark' is a pure delight and conjures up shimmering magic on the spot. Sarah's duet with Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers' 'Nothing Left to Talk About' has already been lifted as a single. It's an infectious track with an upbeat tempo that kind of misrepresents the unhappy state of affairs the song is depicting - the demise of a relationship. The apparent contradiction between the music and words is deliberate I'm sure, suggesting Sarah's character is in denial or overly optimistic, while Nicky's repeated refrains patiently try to get the message across. When I first heard Nicky Wire was singing on the record I was surprised. As he would admit himself, he's not especially known for his vocal talents but on hearing the record he actually has the perfect voice to deliver these lines - there's a kind of delicacy, awkwardness and finality about the way he semi-speaks them over and over. My favourite track on Red Kite is 'Ragdoll' which oddly enough has a country twang and feels like it comes from a place far from Oxfordshire. "Feeling like a ragdoll/Moving so slow" - it's the ballad of a woman entangled in a struggle, which seems to be with something from the past that has reared its head once more and got under her skin. "Is there something that I need to know?" she keeps asking but nobody's answering, just the echo of the rain on those window panes. There's something about the pace and melody that's haunting and plaintive and I could listen to it over and over and OVER again. 'Red Kite' is an enchanting album that's only left my CD player to move from one room to the next since it arrived - and that speaks for itself.

Track Listing:-
1 On the Swings
2 Nothing Left to Talk About (feat. N
3 In the Dark
4 Ragdoll
5 Underneath the Stars
6 Hearts Are for Breaking
7 Take the Silver
8 The Mutineer
9 I Close My Eyes
10 t's Never Too Late
11 I Am Not Your Enemy
12 Favourite Chair

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